As the Lady Purple Hurricanes prepare to begin the 2011-12 postseason tonight with a first-round home game against Oconee County, it is the excitement of that trip to the state quarterfinals that has them thinking about a return.
How well Cartersville manages the pressure of those expectations will be a major factor in that possibility.
"I can tell a big difference in the team because last year we just went out and played," Lady Canes coach Donna Enis said. "I don't think they had any expectations. [We just went out and played] and enjoyed the ride."
That hasn't always been the case this season, though.
"This year I feel like we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. ... That's something I've addressed. ...Hopefully, we can relax and be confident and come out and do what we're capable of doing.
"Our goal is to try to get to the Final Four ... but at some point if you put too much pressure on yourself, you're not gonna be able to accomplish any kind of goal."
The Lady Canes enter this year's state playoffs as the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAA, same as a season ago, but there seemed to be a feeling that they could have had more than another region runner-up finish.
Enis acknowledged disappointment following her team's 56-40 loss to Allatoona last Saturday in the region championship, a game where Cartersville scored just three points in the final quarter. But, the Lady Canes coach believes her team can use that deflating loss to its advantage.
"We definitely wanted the region championship, but sometimes things just didn't work out like we wanted them to," she said. "Last year we came out second [in the region] and made it to the Elite Eight, so we're trying to look at things positively."
While Cartersville had to lament a region title game loss, its opponent tonight suffered, perhaps, a more bittersweet defeat than that as the Lady Warriors lost 47-39 in the Region 8-AAA semifinals last Friday to Chestatee. Oconee County rebounded to win last Saturday in the consolation game against Gainesville.
The Lady Warriors enter their matchup with the Lady Canes as a No. 3 seed, but won their sub-region during the regular season.
"You get toward the end of the year and you start looking and trying to estimate matchups, and Oconee County kind of looked like they were rolling through their region. ... I was surprised [they lost]," Enis admitted.
Despite a slightly banged up Cartersville team, the coach enjoys a couple of factors about the matchup.
"I think it makes a big difference being at home instead of having to travel for two hours," Enis said. "I feel like we possibly match up better with them than we would [with] some of the other teams over there. You take what you get and you go with it."
Oconee County, which enjoyed a 12-game winning streak from Dec. 16 to Jan. 21, is led by Gabby Bevillard, a 6-foot-2 forward who verbally committed to Florida State last month.
Bevillard was named her sub-region's player of the year and was a first-team all-region selection alongside her teammate Brittany Dickens.
"They got a 6-2 girl that likes to do a lot of the ball handling," Enis said. "That's one adjustment we're trying to make, trying to guard a big girl that likes to play on the outside. ... Hopefully, we have come up with a good game plan to counteract it.
"We're gonna have to do a really good job defensively and match up better."
The Lady Canes may see a team that reminds them of the Lady Buccaneers -- who they beat once in three tries -- in terms of a having a tall player with perimeter skills.
"I see a lot of similarities there," Enis said. "They bring to mind Allatoona, [but] I feel like [Bevillard], from what I've seen, doesn't handle the ball as well as the [Elise] Spann girl from Allatoona. She's not as athletic."
The Cartersville coach plans to scrap the defensive approach she took against the Lady Bucs, which allowed other players on Allatoona to get going. The Lady Warriors also have some outside shooting that could factor into the game if the Lady Canes focus too hard on Bevillard.
Cartersville (21-6) and Oconee County (22-6) are slated to tip off at 6 p.m. as the Lady Canes search to regain the magic that catapulted them a season ago.